Beginner’s Guide to Casino Poker: How to Keep or Change Seats in a Cash Game

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Two scenarios may compel you to change tables:

  1. A game may split up, and if you want to continue playing, you’ll need to transfer to a different table. If this occurs, the poker room staff will advise you on what to do.
  2. You can be assigned to a “must-move” table when you initially start a game. This happens when a poker room manager has enough players to create a second table but isn’t sure if enough players will keep both tables at a healthy level. Because many cash game players dislike short-handed tables, a few people leaving a game might cause a cascade of exits, thus killing the game.

To preserve the vigor of the original table, the newly formed one might be labeled as “must-move,” which means that players will be obliged to relocate from it as seats in the first game become available.

Aside from those two scenarios, you can stay in your seat as long as you want to play.

Taking a Vacation

I’ve occasionally overheard a newcomer to casino poker ask the dealer whether he can use the restroom. Poker veterans may think this amusing and naive, but it’s a reasonable inquiry – the kind that everyone assumes you know, but no one tells you!

Yes, you can take a break to use the restroom, check your sports bets, make a phone call, go to the ATM for extra cash, or go for a walk to relax after a bad beat. The game will continue even if you are absent. Of course, they can only keep your seat for a certain amount of time, so if you are gone for more than 15 minutes, say for a dinner break, you should ask the dealer how long you may be gone and still claim your seat when you return.

If you lose track of time or are delayed in returning, you may find that someone else has taken your seat. Don’t be concerned. Your chips will have been meticulously tallied, bagged, and stored by the poker room staff, and you will be able to retrieve them.

It is considered impolite to take an extended meal break before returning to pick up your chips and cash out for the day. You can certainly see why you’ll be chastised for this – you’ve left the game short-handed for no apparent reason. Others on the waiting list might have stolen your place if you had cashed out before coming to supper.

If you intend to return to the game, but something comes up, get your chips and give up your seat as quickly as feasible. It also wouldn’t hurt to apologize to the table for tying up that seat, so they don’t think you’re a mindless jerk.

Changing Tables or Seats

You might decide at some moment that you’d instead take a different seat at the table. This could be for strategic advantage, more elbow room, a better view of the big-screen TV, or because you’re stuck next to a guy who stinks. (Please don’t laugh!) It will happen if you spend enough time in a poker room.)

When a player exits the game, other players get first dibs on the seat before a new player is seated. If you want to change hearts, be the first to speak out when one becomes available. Most poker rooms feature a “seat change” button to avoid conflicts regarding who claimed it first. When you first decide to relocate, ask the dealer for it. As tickets become available, this will reserve your “right of first refusal.” When you’re done, could you return it to the dealer?

By the way, there is a uniform standard for the chairs surrounding a poker table, albeit they aren’t marked. Seat one, or “the one seat,” is the first place to the dealer’s left, followed by Seat 2 and so on clockwise. Seat 9 or Seat 10 is usually the last seat on the dealer’s right in most games. (To avoid running out of cards, several poker variants, such as seven-card stud, are played with fewer than nine players.) You’ll appear more competent if you ask for a specific seat by number when asking for a change.

You might decide that you don’t just need a new seat, but an entirely new table. Perhaps there’s a brisk breeze making it impossible to relax, or there are too many chatterboxes, or there’s exceptionally fierce competition, or you want to join your friend in his game. You’ll need permission from the “floor person,” or one of the room supervisors, for this. When they can do so without leaving a game short-handed, they will gladly meet your request.

Leaving and Getting Paid

Feel free to leave at any point if you’ve had your fill of poker for the day. You do not need to wait for the end of a hand (unless you are in it) or the button in a specific position. You don’t need anyone’s permission to do this. You can walk away after picking up your chips. It’s nice, however, to say something pleasant to the surviving players. “Good luck, guys,” “Thanks for the game, everyone,” and “Sorry, I have to get the kids in bed” are cliched but pleasant exit phrases.

Don’t stomp off angrily if you leave after losing all your chips (it happens to everyone). Smile and offer something pleasant and reassuring as a good sport. It will make you feel better about the loss if you can maintain your calm.

The dealer will cash out your chips in a few spots. It’s far more likely that you’ll have to take them to the front desk or the cashier’s cage for the transaction.

Don’t try to carry your chips in your hands unless you only have a handful. They’re slicker than they appear, and if you drop them all over the floor, you’ll make a tremendous mess and humiliate yourself. Request a chip rack to assist you to carry them in, or grab one if one is lying around. They’re frequently found on empty tables, on the floor beneath tables, or stacked near the checkout.

For your hours of play, several casinos provide you credit toward a rewards program. If you don’t have a player’s card, it’s usually a good idea to ask the poker club personnel for one when you first come. At the front desk or the table, you may be swiped in. If you choose the latter, the dealer will automatically stop the clock on your game when you leave, but if you choose the former, you must remember to have someone scan your card on your way out. Otherwise, you will not be given credit for those hours.